History is always present in the Venetian Carnival, in his costumes, ceremonies and festivals. As in Italy and in Venice ancient masquerades were kind of a role model in the emergence of the carnival. Especially the Saturnalia, attended throughout the Roman Empire to worship Saturn, offered an attractive occasion for mass-orgies. Since that it is hardly surprising that the Venetian courtesans were regarded as the queens of their craft for centuries.
Despite fierce opposition of the Church the Venetian celebrated carnival since the founding of the city. It started on the 26th of December and ended on Ash Wednesday. Over the centuries, there were numerous prohibitions, but at the bottomline non of them was enforced.
Particularly bizarre to us today may seem the regulation of 1458 to take action against men who masqueraded as women, invading the nunneries in order to do "many shamelessnesses" in Carnival season.
It seems that even in the era of prohibition, the mask and the panels made especially remarkable progress. The original typical disguises as wild man, devil, men in Gnaga (the womans mask), somehow covered or blackened faces and fantastic costumes became a fashion in 16th Century.
Additionally many strangers and visitors came from exotic places that were only to be found in Venice in such large numbers. (Turks, Dalmatians, Cretans, Albanians, Armenians, Negro, German, Swiss, extravagant professionals from all over the world, Persian silk merchants, Dutch sailors, Arab caravan leaders ...)
In addition, the Venetians had begun to extend the mask time. Thus in the 17th Century, the actual Carnival began in October, only interrupted for a short time at Christmas, and then on the 26th December to be officially opened in the old fashion, but now not on Ash Wednesday to find an open end, if any.
Even more the mask was also worn these days at annual festivals, political manifestations, public inaugurations and state visits blazed.
In the 18th Century, the wearing of the mask had infiltrated venetian society entirely and had become the attraction of the pre-industrial tourism.
"Mask belongs to the suit" - this expresses precisely what the visitors of the 18th Century expected on the canals, the campuses in the Piazza and Piazzetta, in the calli of Venice.
With about 140,000 inhabitants, which the city hosted in 1701, only 30,000 were residents. This early luxury tourism helped the Senate to find new revenue sources and gave the former arsenal workers and sailors a new career.
When Napoleon conquered Venice in 1797, with the Republic also the carnival went down. What remained could take place anywhere: Some masquerades, some showpieces, a few arias, masked, noisy underclass.
The festivals of the state and society, the freedom of maschera nobile, the noise, the game - it was all gone. A carnival visitors in 1830 described the situation of the former lords of Venice under their new masters - the Austrians - with these words:
"In the corner of a cafe you can see some figures in modern, but completely worn out clothes. They are the nobels, almost the biggest names in the golden book, destitute, too arrogant to work, proud enough not to beg, and the Emperor gives them a support (two twenties per day) for their name's sake. "
Maschera nobile is the typical Venetian mask. It consists of a coat of black silk - the Tabarro - a cap that covers the entire head to the shoulders - the Bauta - a white wax mask covering the face that goes up from the mouth - the volto - and a black hat with white feathers.
Since 1756 the maschera nobile was allowed to women. This mask makes all people the same. And it sufficed just that simple salutation "Sior Maschera" ("Mr. Mask ...").
Now the mask time has awakened again. The modern Signoria of Venice - mass tourism - revived and declared the whole city into a stage in 1980.